Over the last year, I have discussed science with several US National Science Foundation Program officers, had coffee with recent grads in Ann Arbor, chatted about invasive species with a National Academies of Sciences member, engaged with environmental leaders in other states about climate policy, and had lunch with a good friend's mom. What do all these experiences have in common? They were all with UMBS alumni.
It turns out our alumni are everywhere, and they are eager to talk about how UMBS has shaped their lives and occupations – from shaping US environmental policy to removing grass and planting native plants in their yards. The conversations are always a lot of fun and generally include a story about the number of mice in the cabins (spoiler here, it’s always a lot, but “a lot” is not well defined) as well as stories expounding upon how much their one week, three week, or eight week experience in northern Michigan changed how they saw the world and their place in it.
The power of UMBS lies in its community coupled with its extensive long-term datasets, its deep understanding of a place, and its ability to build upon and leverage that information to understand today and predict tomorrow. This deep place-based understanding enables UMBS researchers to solve problems, but it also creates a rich learning environment where students can become active participants in their own learning process. UMBS exposes students, often for the first time, to the natural world and all of its wonders, it enables students to build connections across topic areas, and it empowers them to ask questions and figure out how to find the answers. These experiences are powerful and stick with alumni for a lifetime.
We are looking forward to another summer of research and learning at UMBS. Our courses are full – with many old favorites such as Field Mammalogy, Forest Ecosystems, and Ethnobotany, as well as new courses like Microbes in the Wild. Students will learn from some of the best faculty in the world, while also being enmeshed in a community of researchers who are exploring how natural systems are put together and function. Students have meals with researchers and graduate students exploring a diverse array of questions, from why monarchs migrate, to how much carbon is stored in tree roots.
These experiences, coupled with place-based learning, are transformative. As UMBS alumna Elin Betanzo states so eloquently in the article below, UMBS opens students' eyes to “a whole new way to do science.” We are excited to tell the stories of a few of our alumni this month. UMBS staff and I look forward to the kick-off of spring term next month, hearing more inspiring student stories, and continuing to follow them into the future.
Dr. Aimée Classen